Silver and Squadron shoot for revamp of Gulick Park


By Julie Shapiro

Taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather Friday morning, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Senator Daniel Squadron shot some hoops on the Lower East Side while announcing their hopes to redo a rundown park.

Luther Gulick Park, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge just east of Pitt St., includes a well-used playground, basketball and handball courts that need repairs and a barren sitting area with cracked paving and little greenery. Local residents say the park could use $6 million of work, including new bathrooms, lighting on the courts, new sidewalks and storm sewers and an overhaul of the sitting area. The first phase, which would just cover the sitting area, would cost $2 million.

So far, the project has $360,000 in the bank from former Councilmember Alan Gerson, a commitment that his successor, Margaret Chin, said she would keep. On Friday, Squadron announced that the state Senate would contribute another $100,000, and Silver and other officials hope to add some money as well — but it will be at least a year before the project gathers enough funding to start work, said Namshik Yoon, Parks Department chief of operations.

Still, the mood was light Friday morning as Silver and Squadron walked around the park with Yoon and local residents. The visit brought back memories for Silver, who grew up nearby and said he spent lots of time at Gulick Park as a child. Tilting back his head, he indicated a barely visible scar just beneath his chin, which he said came from a boy on a swing kicking him many years ago, a blow that required several stitches.

When Silver and Squadron entered the park’s basketball courts on Friday, Silver grabbed a basketball and started dribbling toward the net-less hoop.

“You gotta dribble before you can shoot,” Silver said as he warmed up a little, wearing his usual suit and tie. During much of his political career, Silver played regular basketball games with Albany politicians, but now, at 66, he has mostly stopped. On Friday, Silver missed his first shot but went in for a layup and scored. He and Squadron then passed the ball back and forth, each making a few baskets but missing more.

“I’ve retired,” Silver said afterward as he caught his breath, “and every time I pick up a ball, I remember why.”

The politicians’ choice of a brief basketball game was fitting, because the park’s namesake, Luther Gulick, played an important, albeit largely unknown, role in the history of basketball. In 1891, Gulick was head of the International YMCA Training School’s physical education department in Springfield, Mass., when he instructed teacher James Naismith to come up with a sport that could be played indoors in the winter. Naismith invented basketball in response, and is widely considered the father of the sport.

However, Silver said, “Most people say it’s Luther Gulick who should get the credit.”

“Well, most people on the Lower East Side,” Squadron added.

The Friends of Gulick Park will hold a community planning session on May 16 in the park, on the south side of Delancey St. between Bialystoker Place and Abraham Kazan St. For more information, go to www.gulickpark.org .